My first introduction to George Simenon’s books was in French Literature class, when we had to examine a book’s themes, styles, and what it says about the author. And being the bum that I am, I chose a short detective story – The Man On The Boulevard. There, I was introduced to the world of Inspector Maigret and his slow, ambling ways. He doesn’t wrap up cases in a matter of hours, neither does he deduce the entire case from the armchair. He walks around, talking to people, looking for clues. Years later, I borrowed all the books in the series, as many as until I tired of them. Then I moved back to Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Yes I have a thing for detective stories.
But a recent trip to the library saw me move back to the shelves starting with “S”, and I picked up Simenon’s The Man Who Watched Trains Go By. This is one of Simenon’s roman durs, so-called ‘hard novels’ because they make the reader uncomfortable. It’s the story of a perfectly respectable Dutchman who, after life changes as he knows it, goes for women, murders, and becomes a fugitive, the anti-thesis of a chess-playing family man who would stay in by the green metal (cast iron I think) boiler in the kitchen, nodding off to sleep. This story ends on an unsettling note, but that’s what Simenon sets out to do from the beginning. And his study of psychology comes through, so does his method of fleshing out characters – putting all he knows about them in separate envelopes until he’s ready to write about them.
Will I pick up another Simenon roman durs or Maigret book? You bet.
Mimosa’s rating of The Man Who Watched Trains Go By: 4/5